Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The atheists who attacked David Cameron, who are they?

The recent statement by David Cameron about Britain as a 'Christian country' attracted a sharp response in a public letter signed by fifty-five prominent people and printed in the Daily Telegraph.
 
There has been a lot of discussion and comment about his original statement but I want to focus on the response and in particular its fifty-five signatories.  Who are they an how did they come together so quickly to respond to Cameron?

The letter was organised by the president of the British Human Association and all but one of the signatories is a 'distinguished supporter' of the British Humanist Association.  It doesn't say that in the letter but on its website the British Humanist Association states that he organised the letter.  However it does not say that almost all the signatories have previously been honoured by them as 'distinguished supporters'.
 
Professor Jim Al-Khalili is an Iraqi-born British scientist, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He is also the president of the British Humanist Association.
 
Philip Pullman is a prominent atheist, a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.  He is the author of a fictionalised biography of Jesus entitled The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and once said, 'I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.'
  
Tim Minchin is a comedian, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Dr Simon Singh is a science writer and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He is also an honorary associate of the Rationalist Association.

Ken Follett is a novelist, an avowed atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Dr Adam Rutherford is a scientific journalist, a committed atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Sir John Sulston is a biologist, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Sir David Smith FRS is a botanist, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor Jonathan Glover is a philosopher, an atheist and distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Professor Anthony Grayling is an atheist, a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society. 
 
Nick Ross is a broadcaster and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Virginia Ironside is a journalist, an atheist, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
Professor Steven Rose has been described as a 'polemicist on the left'.  He is an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Natalie Haynes is a comedian and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Peter Tatchell is a militant homosexual activist, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Human Association. 

Professor Raymond Tallis is a physician, philosopher and author and a distinguished support of the British Humanist Association.  He supports euthanasia.

Dr Iolo ap Gwynn FRMS is a scientist, mountaineer and distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Stephen Volk is an author and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor Steve Jones is a geneticist, broadcaster and distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Sir Terry Pratchett is an author, satirist and distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Dr Evan Harris is a former Liberal Democrat MP and an atheist.  He is vice-president of the British Humanist Association,  vice-president of the BHA-affiliated Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and was patron of the Oxford Secular Society.

Dr Richard Bartle is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He said, 'If there is a heaven, it's a far more miserable place than real life.'

Sian Berry is a Green Party campaigner and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  She contributed a chapter to The Atheist's Guide to Christmas and was a supporter of the Atheist Bus Campaign.

C J DE Mooi is an actor, chess player, homosexual rights campaigner and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor John A Lee is a pathologist, an atheist  and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor Richard Norman is a philosopher and a vice-president of the British Humanist Association.  He edited The Case for Secularism.

Zoe Margolis is a writer, a journalist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Joan Smith is a journalist, author and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  She is also an honorary associate of the Nationalist Secular Society.

Michael Gore is an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Derek McAuley is the chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.  This is an ultra-liberal organisation and we should not be misled by the word 'Christian' in the title.  The GAUFC website says, 'Unitarianism can include people who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan and Atheist'!

Lorraine Barratt is a former Welsh Labour politician, an atheist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Dr Susan Blackmore is a wrier, broadcaster and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  She also campaigns for drug legalisation.

Dr Harry Stopes-Roe is an atheist and a distinguished supporter and a vice-president of the British Humanist Association.

Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC is a lawyer and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Adele Anderson is an actress and singer and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Dr Helena Cronin is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association, an honorary associate of Rationalist International and of the Rationalist Association.  She has also campaigned for Charles Darwin's birthday to be a public holiday.

Professor Alice Roberts is an anatomist, broadcaster and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association. 

Professor Chris French is a psychologist, editor of The Skeptic and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Sir Tom Blundell is a scientist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He co-signed a letter calling for Charles Darwin's birthday to be a public holiday.
 
Maureen Duffy is a poet, playwright, novelist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  She is a homosexual activist and was the first president of the Gay Humanist Group.

Baroness Whitaker is a Labour peer, an atheist and a vice-president and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He is a Buddhist and Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.

Richard Herring is a writer and comedian and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Martin Rowson is a writer, cartoonist, a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.  His work has appeared in many newspapers including The Morning Star.

Tony Hawks is a comedian, musician and author and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Peter Cave is a philosopher and distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Diane Munday was a pioneer of legal abortion.  She is a director of the Rationalist Press Association and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor Norman MacLean is a biologist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS is a chemist and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Sir Richard Dalton is a former diplomat and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Sir David Blatherwick is a diplomat, writer and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Michael Rubenstein is a writer, consultant and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.  He said, 'Equal rights and orthodox religion are not compatible.'

Polly Toynbee is a journalist, an atheist and vice president of the British Humanist Association.  She is also an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan is a Labour peer, an atheist, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Dan Snow is a television presenter and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
 
In the letter the signatories did not state that the letter was organised by the president of the British Humanist Association and that 54 of the 55 signatories are listed on the BHA website as 'distinguished supporters'. 
 
It is also interesting and alarming that not one of our newspapers pointed out the fact that 54 of the signatories were atheists.  For example:
The Daily Telegraph noted that the lead signatory is the president  of the British Humanist Association but simply described the signatories as '55 public figures from a range of political backgrounds'.
The BBC also noted that the lead signatory was the president of the British Humanist Association but like the Daily Telegraph did not report the relationship of 53 other signatories to the British Humanist Association.   
The Guardian referred to them as 'more than 50 prominent public figures including novelists, diplomats, Nobel prize winners and playwrights' but made no mention of the British Humanist Association. 
The Independent described the signatories as 'an alliance of public figures' but made no mention of the British Humanist Association at all.
The New York Times noted that the lead signatory was the president of the British Humanist Association and described one other signatory as a 'noted atheist' but made no mention of the fact that nearly every signatory has been recognised by the British Humanist Association as a 'distinguished supporter'.
So why were the mainstream media so reticent about saying it?  Did they not know?  Did they not research?  Did they not think it significant?  Did they just hide it?

The letter certainly draws our attention to the British Humanist Association, whose website lists those whom the association has invited to be 'distinguished supporters'.  It reads like a 'who's who' of the people who appear in the media day after day as commentators, contributors and participants in panel discussions.  It helps to explain the secular ethos which is so dominant in the media, especially in the BBC, and it helps to explains why Christians are generally marginalised.

The development of this 'distinguished supporters' list provides the British Humanist Association with a list of names, some of them fairly prominent, who can sign a letter as 'public figures'.  If the letter was signed by the secretary or the chairman of the British Humanist Association and signed in that capacity it would attract little attention.  They would be dismissed as simply another pressure group.  It was the omission of any reference to the British Humanist Association and the inclusion of so many names that gave this letter its credibility.

The 54 atheists who signed the letter are just some of the people who have been honoured by the British Humanist Association as 'distinguished supporters'.  There are quite a few others, including Professor Richard Dawkins.

Finally, the letter is really a reflection of the activities of an increasingly militant atheism in Britain today.  Christian churches and Christian believers would do well to take note!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Patrick Murphy - the Irish News' resident cultural bigot (1)

Patrick Murphy
I have met Dr Patrick Murphy on a number of occasions.  He was at one time director of the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, now the Belfast Metropolitan College.  More recently I met him when we were both contributors at the first D'Arcy McGee summer school in Carlingford. 

He is a very personable individual when you meet him but when he writes his weekly column in the Irish News he often displays an innate cultural bigotry and last Saturday (19 April) was no exception.  His core message was that 'unionism' has no 'cultural dimension' and he said: 
The argument that unionism has a cultural dimension is a recent invention.
 
Of course Murphy was unable to resist the temptation and he followed up this statement by saying:
One Ulster Scots word of the day this week was 'shap' meaning 'shop'.  That is not a language, it is just a Belfast accent.'

In fact the Scottish National Dictionary, which is a standard academic work on Scots, gives the Scots shap as the Scots form of the English shop.  It is not surprising that the two words are similar since English, Scots and Ulster-Scots are sister languages within the West Germanic family of languages.
 

The Scottish National Dictionary explains that the word comes from the Old Scots schap.  It also gives three examples of the use of the Scots word shap.  The first is from the Poems of Allan Ramsey (1728) and the second is from The Scots Magazine (1806). 



The ten-volume Scottish National Dictionary
Allan Ramsey was born in Lanarkshire and the Scots Magazine reference related to Dumfries, however, according to Patrick Murphy both examples were simply a 'Belfast accent'!

The third example in the Scottish National Dictionary is from Ulster and is from the book Ballymulcaghey, written by Mat Mulcaghey in 1928.  Mulcaghey was in fact the pen-name of the author Guy Wilson.

Of course it is probably too much to expect Patrick Murphy to refer to the Scottish National Dictionary before writing his column, even though it is available online.  It is much easier for him to pander to his cultural prejudice.  For Patrick Murphy prejudice is a great time saver.  It enables him to write his article and make his money without bothering to find out the facts.

For those such as Patrick Murphy who may not be familiar with the Scottish National Dictionary, it may be helpful to explain the background to the dictionary.  It was produced by the Scottish National Dictionary Association between 1931 and 1976 and comprises ten volumes.  The full ten volume set can be consulted in the Linen Hall Library or it can be accessed online as part of the Dictionary of the Scots Language.

This is not the first time that Patrick Murphy has shown this cultural prejudice against Ulster-Scots language and culture and it will probably not be the last but it says more about him than it does about either the language or the culture.
 
 



Saturday, 19 April 2014

Illegal disel businesses

According to newspaper reports Tommy Crossan was shot dead on Friday 'at the illegal diesel site he ran' off the Springfield Road in West Belfast. 
 
Crossan had once led the Continuity IRA and served six years in prison for a gun attack on a police station in Belfast.
 
The PSNI must now direct their efforts to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice.  However the location of the murder raises several important questions for the PSNI.
 
(1) How was it that Tommy Crossan was able to run an illegal diesel business in the heart of our capital city.  Were the PSNI unaware of his activities?  Surely as someone who had a lengthy record of terrorism and criminality he was the sort of person the PSNI should be keeping under surveillance.  It seems that either the PSNI were not keeping him under surveillance or else they were turning a blind eye to the illegal diesel business.
 
(2) If there was an illegal diesel business on the Springfield Road, how many other illegal diesel businesses are there operating elsewhere in Belfast?
 
(3) What are the PSNI doing to bring this criminality to an end?
 
These questions certainly deserve answers and the Policing Board and the Justice Committee at Stormont are places where they can be asked.
 
Quite a number of diesel laundering businesses have been uncovered around the border with the Irish Republic but I have not heard as much about action against the outlets for the illegal diesel.

Dee Fennell - republican bigot

Dee Fennell is the principal spokesman for the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) and is also standing as an independent republican candidate in the Oldpark electoral area in the forthcoming council elections.  He is a member of one of the small extreme republican groups in Ardoyne, the Sean MacDiarmada 1916 Society.
 
Today the Irish News (19 April) reported:
Mr Fennell claimed the 'radical approach and strategy of GARC' in recent years has 'effectively brought an end to evening parades' through Ardoyne.
He also warned that a more 'radical approach' will now be taken towards loyal order morning parades taking place through the district.
The actions of the Parades Commission, PSNI and the loyal orders in the months ahead could lead to a long, hot and volatile summer for all of us,' he warned.
 
Dee Fennell is a bigot and a particularly nasty bigot.  His bigotry and intolerance shape his attitude towards loyal order parades on the Crumlin Road and he believes that there should never be an Orangeman on the Crumlin Road again, morning, afternoon or evening.  In fact he believes in cultural apartheid.
 
He is a also a bully and his threat of a 'long, hot and volatile summer' is an example of that bullying.
 
Last year the Parades Commission pandered to the bigotry of Fennell and his associates by preventing the Ligoniel lodges returning home and they have encouraged him to press on towards his ultimate goal - no Orange feet on the Crumlin Road.  Peter Osbore, Brian Kennaway and the other members of that last commission bowed to the bullying of GARC and they have a lot to answer for.
 
The current commission has said that its determinations will be based on evidence and so the Irish News report will be forwarded to them with a covering letter as one piece of the evidence they should keep on file and keep in mind.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

What is wrong with our courts?

Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast
Recent newspaper headlines in Northern Ireland include Woman walks free despite £200,000 property fraud and Suspended sentence for drug-money laundering.
 
None of the £200,000 has been recovered from the county Tyrone property fraudster, who was given a suspended sentence, and the drug dealer also got a suspended sentence.
 
Most people will wonder if judges really believe in the punishment fitting the crime. 

Sinn Fein, welfare reform and Leo Green

The following paragraph is taken from Newton Emerson's column in the Irish News today (12 April):

 
Sinn Fein's former Stormont political director Leo Green, who suddenly left his post before February's ard fheis, has confirmed rumours of a fall-out by bringing an unfair dismissal case.  One of his complaints is discrimination on the grounds of political opinion, which would be unacceptable in most jobs but is clearly problematic when  employed at this level of politics.  DUP minister Nelson McCausland said back in February that Green had left due to major differences within Sinn Fein over welfare reform and events are increasingly bearing this out.  The issue is certainly profound, affecting not only benefit claimants, public sector workers and public service users but also raising the questions of whether Sinn Fein is an aspirational or eternal protest party and whether it wants Northern Ireland to succeed or fail on the road to a united Ireland.
 
Newton Emerson makes some important points and it will be interesting to see how Sinn Fein faces up to the challenge of welfare reform.  The signs so far are certainly not encouraging.
 
However a failure to move forward with a Northern Ireland version of welfare reform would have serious implications for departmental budgets, especially health and education, and for those workers in Northern Ireland who are employed by the Social Security Agency to deliver welfare to a number of regions in England.  Sinn Fein will get no thanks from those local workers who are likely to lose their jobs.
 
Finally, as regards what I said back on 8 February, I merely noted that Ken Reid had reported the absence of Leo Green from the Sinn Fein ard fheis and said that I had not seen him in the corridors at Stormont for several weeks.  I also noted that he was not the only Sinn Fein advisor who had been 'noticeable by his absence'.  Since then at least one newspaper has mentioned the name of Jackie McMullan.

It is clear that there are divisions within the party, as noted by Newton Emerson, and all is not well in the world of Sinn Fein.

 
 
 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sinn Fein make sectarian attack over housing

Alex Maskey
On Wednesday afternoon the three Sinn Fein members of the Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey, Mickey Brady and Fra McCann lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission about what they describe as 'the failure of DSD minister Nelson McCausland to address the housing crisis, which is hitting nationalists hardest.'

They allege that there is a housing inequality and that Roman Catholics and Nationalists are the victims of some unspecified form of discrimination.

Alex Maskey said, This is the first time as far as we know that a political party has made a complaint to the commission using this aspect of the legislation.  There is a housing crisis in the North. It is by far hitting Catholic families hardest who are on the social housing list.  The minister and his department are failing to address this.'

Fra McCann said that the view held by Sinn Fein was shared by many including trade unions,
Fra McCann
housing rights campaigners and NGOs.  However he didn't specify which trade unions and other organisations believe there is discrimination against Roman Catholics.

The only organisation that I am aware of, apart from some nationalist and republican community groups, is Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), a pressure group which works closely with residents of the New Lodge area.

McCann did name Raquel Rolnik, a Brazilian Marxist who came to Belfast in the guise of a UN Special Rapporteur on Social Housing and he said that she 'highlighted the plight of many Catholic families in North Belfast.'  In fact the Brazilian visitor was taken on a tour of the New Lodge community by PPR activists, handed the erroneous figures produced by PPR and not allowed near a Protestant community.  With a record like that PPR are in no position to lecture anyone about equality!

This is a squalid and sectarian little pre-election stunt by Sinn Fein who have manufactured myths about social housing need, especially in North Belfast.  The truth is that there is housing need in the North Belfast constituency amongst both Protestants and Roman Catholics and I am determined that this housing need will be met in a fair and equitable manner.

On the other hand Sinn Fein want to sectarianise the issue by making false and unfounded claims of anti-Catholic discrimination.  Those false claims are then used by Sinn Fein and the SDLP to demand preferential treatment for nationalists.  To that end they are using their complaint to the Equality Commission as a threat to intimidate my department and to intimidate the Housing Executive. 
 
My department issued the following response for me:
I await with interest to see how the Equality Commission responds to this complaint.  I will be more than happy to provide any information or figures they might seek and these will clearly demonstrate my personal commitment, and that of my department and the Housing Executive, to tackle housing need in a fair and transparent manner.
North Belfast gets mentioned again, but their muddled thinking has already been discredited.  The reality is that the need for social housing in both the nationalist and unionist communities in the North Belfast constituency is roughly the same.  Figures from the Housing Executive confirm that there are 1994 Protestants and 1988 Roman Catholics on the waiting list.  Sinn Fein, for whatever reason, refuse to accept facts that are beyond dispute.
My aim is to build more houses for all our citizens irrespective of religious or political persuasion and I have already put plans in place to make that a reality.  Last year almost 1,300 new social homes were delivered.  This year I plan to deliver 2,000 and the same again for each of the next two years.  That is my commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and I will not be deflected by grandstanding from Sinn Fein who continue to go over the same old ground again and again.
Sinn Fein may be determined to pursue a sectarian agenda.  I prefer to improve the supply of new social housing and to improve the quality of the existing stock.